Santa Cruz Island

By George Thomas, Travel Writer

CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK — The alarm was set for 5:30am, because we were going on an adventure, and I wanted to pack a couple turkey sandwiches as well.  We met at Ventura Harbor around 8am, and our small band of Thomas family members set off on a day trip to Santa Cruz Island for some relaxing and a nice picnic lunch.  The word on the street was marine mammals were being spotted in the thousands.  Just a couple of days ago they saw 1248 common dolphins, and that is quite a specific number so I knew something great was going on out there at sea.

The boat ride to the island was about an hour and a half, and we stopped several times to view wildlife and marine mammals.  There were seabirds galore, and what looked to be a huge ball of bait fish that the dolphins and birds were enjoying.  We saw several grey whales in the channel on the ride out, and just seeing the size of these animals is truly amazing.  Maybe its because of the time of year, or the pending “El Nino,” but there are a lot of different types of whales to be seen along the California coast.
I packed my mask, snorkel and wetsuit and was ready for some swimming by the pier, and a turkey sandwich around noon. I had added some homemade guacamole to the sandwich, so the idea of a picnic on the beach was really appealing to me.

We arrived on island and had a short briefing from the Island Packers staff.  There was to be no smoking on the island, and the boat leaves at 3:30pm sharp.  That seems easy enough to remember, I did not bring any cigars, and nobody really wants one while hiking or recreating anyway.  There was a list of hikes we could take, a half mile one around “Prisoners Harbor” and then the next one was a five mile hike to a place called “South Side Overlook.” The pamphlet said this hike is moderate to strenuous, but the views are absolutely breathtaking.

So being a family and a group of five, our activities committee voted we would start off on the hike, and see how far  all of us could take it, and if anyone wanted to stop and turn around, they should just speak up.  Well, the hike started out moderate, and that was just the first few steps, then we went right in to strenuous, and proceeded to spend the next two and a half miles climbing hill after hill, and mountain after mountain, with me dragging behind and slowly bringing up the rear.  I once said years ago that “Thomas’ Don’t Quit” and have being using that coined phrase at Thanksgiving and birthday parties for decades.  So there was no way on God’s green earth I was going to be the one to say we should stop and turn around, especially with the group I was hiking with, and the implications of years of bad jokes and stories that could come from such an action.  My dear wife wanted to quit, but also was not going to be the one that said anything, so for hours and hours we slowly scaled a mountain out on Santa Cruz Island, and kept taking baby steps to get around that next bend, and up to that next tree, and just a few more minutes to that next picturesque vista.  Man it was brutal, and little three month old Georgie had to be carried the whole way, (because he doesn’t know how to walk) and we all switched off on baby duty, which was nice.

On our way up the mountain we encountered several groups that had given up, and were turning around to go back to the beach.  These people looked young and quite fit, so this notion that they have given up troubled me a tad.  Every time we conquered a mountain, there was another larger one to climb just around the corner.  I remember hiking through the clouds, and thinking that we are now above the cloud line, like when you are in an airplane.  We did stop a few times to catch our breath, which is really why they call this hike breathtaking.  There were amazing views of the mainland, and the beautiful island we were hiking on as well.  And when we finally got to the top of the mountain, you could see both sides of Santa Cruz Island, and it was well worth the toil to see the panoramic view on the top of this gorgeous national treasure.
We took a break to eat some granola, and I was quite pleased we saw it through to the top of the island, and now the easy part, as the rest was all downhill.  I must have slipped coming down the mountain at least ten times, my wife fell down and skinned her knee.  The only one not slipping and sliding was cousin Jon, who actually wore hiking boots on our hike.  (He is so smart.)

We managed slowly to come down the mountain, and that turkey sandwich back at the beach was amazing.  It’s the red peppers in the guacamole that bring it all together.  We had a most excellent time out day tripping on Santa Cruz Island. It is a great experience for couples, families, or if you just want to get away from it all by yourself.  We also saw a blue whale on the boat ride back to Ventura, and that was the cherry on top of a super adventure day with my family.  Have fun out there, wear hiking boots on your next hike, and count the dolphins.

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